Draw blood, partner.
Last time I was rambling out this way – sixty miles from the red river, as the crow flies – I seen a mighty strange fella running in the middle of the night. Sitting by the campfire, I was fixin’ to eat my gravy and grits when this fella up and surprises me, mozeyin’ into the flickerin’ light like he was some kind of cowboy regulator.
“I’m a vampire,” he says, kind of sad like.
“Why the hangdog face?” I ask.
“Well, I got these here guns to shoot you with, but I ain’t got no teeth to bite down on that pretty little neck.”
“I’m a vampire,” he says again, “but I’m a shooting man first, so I never get to feed right proper. See, the city slickers what made me forgot that a vampire sucks first and shoots later.”
“I see,” I say. “Pull up a seat and tell me your sad story, mystery vampire shooter.”
The story he told was crazier than a dog barking at the moon. He believed himself to be in some kind of game called Darkwatch, and this here is what one reviewer said…
Darkwatch, the unbelievably long-awaited Wild West first-person shooter from (now) Capcom, has a great premise and shows lots of promise right from the start. You play as Jericho Cross, a train-robber who unwittingly releases a vampire from his cell, and then slowly becomes one himself. While most first-person shooters have begun to stale, Darkwatch‘s sinister setting blows as fresh as an Oklahoma breeze, but it doesn’t suck, either.
And that’s weird. In what might be the only obvious gameplay omission, your new vampire self does not have any kind of, err, sucking attack. In scripted cut-scenes, Jericho chows down on his enemies, his pals, and even his horse – but in the actual gameplay there is very little sucking.
Instead, there is a lot of blowing…away! (all apologies for sucking the life out of such a thin joke. Ha! Did it again!). Rather than biting, Jericho unleashes death using the standard assortment of pistols, rifles, sniper rifles and whatnot. The most inventive weapon by far is the crossbow that fires lit sticks of dynamite. Fire into a crowd of baddies and they scatter. Anticipate where they will scatter, and you can herd them like cows to a fiery death.
The enemies, mainly undead corpses and ghouls, fall apart like crumbly feta cheese. Head and limb shots remove those appendages neatly, and some of the bigger bad guys will lose large chunks of their flesh as you dissect them cleverly with a shotgun. It’s nothing original, but the physics are good and make the weapons feel adequately powerful.
Most of the game is spent on foot, but in a couple areas Jericho gets to ride around in a well-armed vehicle or on a horse. Don’t get your expectations up too high, though – the horseback sequences are not nearly as cool as you think. Rather than being able to direct the horse around town, it plays more like a rail shooter, with the horse charging in one direction the entire time. Thankfully, you have more than just an undead and probably deaf horse as an ally.
Aiding you in your fight are special vampire powers, such as a rechargeable Blood Shield, a heat-sensitive Blood Vision, and a double jump (I suppose decorum prevented the developers from calling it a Blood Jump). The twist is that none of them work in daylight. In a few hectic areas, you will have to seek out shade behind rocks and under awnings while battling the forces of evil.
As you progress through the game, ethical decisions determine which additional vampire powers you can unlock. Choose a path of good, and you get nice-guy powers like Mystic Shield or Silver Bullet. Choose a path of evil, and besides getting to see Jericho suck a lot of innocent blood, you acquire the ability to turn bad guys against each other or steal their souls in an instant-kill freebie. Although neither path really affects strategy or gameplay – all of the powers are fleeting – certain decisions will affect the ending of the game.
The good/evil mechanic is a nice touch, but you’ll wish it were extended to some of the less scripted decisions. As it is, the game progresses about the same either way until the final battle. Since the story is somewhat shallow, reduced simply to tracking down and killing the vampire you released from the train, you’d think that the ethical decisions would play more of a role in deepening the character.
But it’s hard to deepen the character when he doesn’t speak. At all. While other voices range from an overly dramatic voice-over narrator to a suitably sexy Rose McGowan as the “bad girl,” Jericho doesn’t speak once. This is irksome because the Wild West setting is perfect for tough one-liners: “kiss my grits, you piddling cowpie.”
Even without a voiced protagonist, however, the game is still delivered well. The music is a great orchestration of familiar Wild West sounds and a dramatic, theatrical soundtrack. Visually, the engine handles the task at hand. Movement is fluid, environments are interactive and the framerate holds steady throughout. My only gripe is that frequent load screens and a few too many cut-scenes break up the otherwise breakneck pace of the game.
Both the Xbox and PS2 versions look and sound nearly identical, although there are other differences between the two, most notably in the two exclusive multiplayer modes.
The Xbox offers an online multiplayer component, almost a foregone conclusion in the world of first-person shooters today, while the PS2 unfathomably cannot go online. Instead, the PS2 version offers four-player split-screen multiplay alongside the ability to play through the entire game co-operatively, a mode the Xbox equally unfathomably lacks. Choose your poison, pardner – either online or co-op, but not both.
The PS2’s co-operative mode performs just as it sounds, allowing two people to split-screen through the game simultaneously, although both players must go evil or good together. It’s decent fun and manages to at least marginally make up for the missing online option.
The question, however, is pretty overt: why couldn’t both console systems include both co-op and online play? I can see why going down a path of evil precludes going down a path of good, but why should the same exclusivity apply to multiplayer? What commandment ordered this? Thou shalt not go online or thou shall stray from the beneficent light of cooperative play? Stupid.
Still, neither multiplayer scheme makes or breaks the game because the single-player is better than both of them, offering a fast-paced, good-looking first-person fragfest for either system. The default difficulty is a bit easy, but upping the challenge just one notch ensures a good ten to twelve hour romp in the dust. It took a while to get here, but we’re pretty glad this vamp managed to see the light of day.